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When snowmobiles are on major trails like the Heartland, or in cities, it's easy to tell emergency crews where they are. But when they get into rural areas, snowmobilers often cannot give emergency crews good directions to find them.(Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Snowmobiling injury highlights need for better trail identification

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A Crookston woman was airlifted to Hennepin County Medical Center Saturday after being injured in a snowmobile accident south of Two Inlets earlier that day.

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It took an ambulance crew an hour to locate Anita Marie Brekken, 42, in the Two Inlets State Forest near 560th Avenue and 290th Street west of the Hubbard County line.

And the accident illustrates the need for snowmobilers to know where they are in case they need emergency help.

Rescue crews were slowed when the victim's party didn't know which county they were in Saturday. A Hubbard County dispatcher was frantically searching for a snowmobile trail route map only to learn the accident was in neighboring Becker County.

"The Forest Riders have been doing GPS coordinates on their trails, which is fine and we were using them but when the person doesn't know where they're at, that doesn't do us any good," said Hubbard First Responder Jason Johnson, who was paged to the scene.

"And you find that so much because there's so many people from out of town that ride in this area and you can just imagine when they're out in the middle of nowhere, trying to tell somebody where they're at," agreed Hubbard County Sheriff Cory Aukes. "That's what's tough."

Brekken was snowmobiling with three others, who were not injured. They were identified as Derek Jon Brekken, 22, Justin Daniel Erdmann, 21, and Austen Robert Brekken, 16, all from Crookston.

The Becker County Sheriff's Department said she lost control on a curved trail and her Polaris 600XC struck a tree.

Hypothermia wasn't a problem, Johnson said, because Brekken was bundled warmly when rescue crews reached her with a sled.

Becker County authorities said there was no alcohol involved and no charges will be filed. Brekken was taken by ground ambulance to St. Mary's Hospital in Detroit Lakes and later transferred to Robbinsdale.

"The thing of it is, and it's my own personal thing; When I ride in an area I'm not familiar with I always pay attention to intersections so if something does happen I would have a little bearing" (to direct someone), Aukes said. "That way you can say, 'We're about two miles north of whatever.'"

Johnson said the ambulance crew wasn't sure which roads to take to the area since directions kept changing.

The call was transferred to Becker County when authorities there learned it was in their jurisdiction, so a Becker County dispatcher guided them in.

"We were debating which direction to go, take the Candle Factory road and go that way or cut across Two Inlets road and cut down," Johnson said. "As we were passing roads that could have been closer, more directions are coming in and oh shoot we should have gone this way but we're beyond it now."

"It's something as simple as knowing what trail you're on," Aukes said. "We hear that time and time again: 'I have no idea.' And you might think everybody should know where they're at but people don't."

"Every time this happens we try to fine tune, make it a little bit easier, but I think that's the game plan to get more signs out there," Johnson said.

A group of local law enforcement officers went snowmobiling to Michigan's Upper Peninsula last year. Johnson said trail markers were placed every quarter-mile.

He suggested spending additional funds to mark trails similarly here, because this isn't the first snowmobile crash emergency rescue teams have had difficulty locating. The repetitive signs in Michigan kept reminding sled drivers which trail they were on, he said.

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Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers Hubbard County, courts and breaking news.

(218) 732-3364
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